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The Big Story

A Chinese military base in Southeast Asia? Some say it's inevitable

Beyond infrastructure wars, firepower still a measure of regional dominance

GWEN ROBINSON, Nikkei Asian Review editor-at-large | China

BANGKOK -- Big-power rivalry in the Asia-Pacific region has shifted the focus from military firepower toward competition over infrastructure and investment, spurred by China's Belt and Road scheme and the U.S. and Japan-led Free and Open Indo-Pacific strategy. Yet traditional security concerns are more vital than ever, in some cases determining the rollout of megaprojects and military activity.

The U.S. remains by far the world's top military power -- spending $648.8 billion in 2018 on defense, compared to China's $250 billion, according to Stockholm-based research institute SIPRI. But China is working to transform the People's Liberation Army from a large, yet inefficient and underequipped force, into a modern military power. It is trialing its first domestically built aircraft carrier, with another under development. And China has made huge strides in emerging fields of warfare -- including in AI and cybersecurity.

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